The sports stars who decided to play for free – or even paid for the privilege

League Two side Barnet scored a major coup when they somehow persuaded Dutch legend Edgar Davids to become their player-manager. Their new signing looked even better when Davids led them to a 4-0 win in his very first match in charge.

Yet it turns out that the deal for the 39-year-old was better than anyone could possibly have imagined: it turns out that Davids is not even being paid by the North London club.

“I am an amateur. I get nothing – absolutely nothing,” Davids said. “I’m getting the chance to share my football vision, develop my coaching skills and get my qualifications, coaching with Mark Robson and Uli Landvreugd.

“I also keep playing, I have taken this chance with both hands.”

It seems an extraordinary gesture from a former superstar, but he’s far from the first sports legend to play for nothing, or a nominal fee, or even to pay for the opportunity to take part.

Here’s our pick of the best – though we should just point out that we’ve not considered the many generations of Olympians or Rugby Union players from the amateur eras of their sports who never had any alternative but to play simply for the love of the game.

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Bobby Jones

The only man ever to win the Grand Slam in a season, and the only man who can rival Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the running for the title of greatest golfer in history, never earned a penny for his efforts. Jones remained an amateur throughout his career – running a successful law practice when not on the course – despite the vast sums he was offered to play in exhibition matches or take up sponsorship deals that would have required him to give up his amateur status.

Michael Schumacher

The practice of a driver’s sponsors literally buying them a seat in a Formula One team (at the expense of more talented and better qualified drivers) is well-established. But even the great Michael Schumacher started out effectively paying to have a go at the sport.

Eddie Jordan’s team got paid handsomely by Mercedes for letting the young German (then aged 22) have a crack behind the wheel in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, an opportunity which arose after Bertrand Gachot was jailed in London after getting into a fight with a taxi driver.

It turned out to be a bargain: Schumacher qualified seventh (four places ahead of veteran team-mate Andrea de Cesaris) and was looking good in the race, at least until the seventh lap when his clutch failed. De Cesaris, incidentally, improved from 11th to second, but his engine blew three laps from the end.

Jordan – who were in their first season – were thrilled by their bargain signing and planned a long career for him, but were lent on heavily by everyone from Bernie Ecclestone downwards and Schumi was whisked straight off to join the Benetton team as of the next race. The shenanigans surrounding Schumacher’s swift transfer inspired Ron Dennis’s now infamous comment to a distraught Eddie Jordan: “Welcome to the Piranha Club.”

Spanish Liga - Malaga fans revel in turnaroundSpanish Liga – Malaga fans revel in turnaroundOguchi Onyweu

The American defender asked AC Milan not to pay him for a one-year contract extension in 2010, on the basis that he had managed only one match for the club the previous season before injury ruled him out. Milan were delighted . The club said: “He has become a star today with a significant gesture from a personal and professional standpoint. This is an exemplary gesture that deserves our sincere congratulations.” Within six months, he had fought Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the training ground and been farmed out on loan to FC Twente.

Ally McCoist

The Rangers manager reacted to the club’s finanical meltdown by immediately offering his services for nothing. “He was one of the first people to turn to Duff and Phelps and say, ‘Don’t pay me any salary’,” said new club chief Charles Green. “Ally worked for free and I don’t know any manager who has gone into their boss’s office and said, ‘I will work for free’.”

And given that Rangers have lost one and drawn three of their first eight games against the part-time nobodies of Scottish Division Three, it looks like the Glasgow giants have got exactly what they paid for.

Al-Saadi Gaddafi

Al-Saadi Gaddafi

The third son of the late Libyan dictator was desperate to launch a football career, and used all his dad’s connections to help him out. He played as a striker for local sides Al-Ahli and Al-Ittihad in Tripoli and almost earned a transfer to Maltese side Birkirkara (who had a spot in the Champions League early rounds) before it fell through.

Eventually got his break in the big time: after employing Diego Maradona as a technical advsiser and disgraced Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson as his fitness coach he signed for Perugia. It was no coincidence that the move came about on the back of huge back-handers and oil deals with various Italian businessmen and the Libyan regime.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given who was working for him, he failed a drug test – for nandrolone – before he even made his debut, but eventually got on the pitch as a sub for 15 minutes against Juventus. More shenanigans in the background saw him earn a transfer to Udinese (for whom he managed 11 minutes) and then Sampdoria (where he never got on the pitch).

Saadi is currently the subject of a ‘Red Notice’ from Interpol, with a likely death sentence awaiting him back in Libya for his part in his father’s regime.

Damiano Tommasi

The Italian international midfielder and Serie A champion with Roma voluntarily asked for a massive pay cut in his final year with Roma in 2005-06. He felt so guilty about a bad knee injury sustained just before the previous season that he asked the club to put him on youth team wages of £12,000 a year. When asked why he did it, his answer was simple: “Because I love football.” His gesture cemented his place in Roma legend, and even the Vatican joined in the general chorus of praise.


The Egyptian star agreed to play for West Ham for a token £1,000-a-week in February 2010 to avoid becoming thought of as a has-been. “I am here to play football and to prove a point,” he said. “I had to sacrifice some things but this is a great club.” He played nine times and did not score.

Paul McCartney

The ex-Beatle agreed to be the star of the show at the London 2012 opening ceremony for the payment of just £1. McCartney – who is thought to be worth £665 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List – actually said all he needed was love, since love is all you need, but the contract lawyers insisted on the token payment.

Joseba Etxeberria

The Spain international winger spent 15 seasons with Athletic Bilbao, but for the last of those he agreed to play for nothing. “I wanted to do this gesture but never did I want to set a precedent… It’s an idea I’ve had for years,” he explained. Club president Fernando Garcia Macua added, “From the club’s standpoint there are not words enough to thank such a gesture.” Etxeberria then played the best testimonial ever, as Athletic took on a team of 200 kids.

Honourable mention: Gil Meche

He didn’t play for free, but Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche did at least refuse to take money for not playing. He voluntarily turned down the last year of his £7.5 million annual contract as he thought he wouldn’t be worth it after injury robbed him of his edge.

“I’m not trying to look good… I didn’t want to go through that again, to be the guy making $12 million and doing absolutely nothing to help this team. Not when I can walk away, be with my family.”


Surce: Yahoo Eurosport